The portion of Bamidbar isalways read before the festival of Shavuos.1 The reason for this is that the matters discussed in it directly relate to the preparations2 one should make before receiving the Torah on Shavuos.

The general content of Bamidbar is the census that was taken of the Jewish people during the second year of their sojourn in the desert. So important was this event that the whole fourth book of the Torah is known as the “Book of Counting.”3

Specifically, the portion relates three manners of counting the Jewish people. Initially all Jews were counted, with the exception of the tribe of Levi.4 Afterward, the tribe of Levi was counted separately.5 All Levites who had reached the age of one month were included in this count.6

The portion concludes with the counting of the Levite family of Kehos. They were counted from the age of thirty years, at which age they became fit to carry the furnishings of the Tabernacle’s Holy of Holies.7

As part of the people’s preparation for receiving the Torah, Moshe related to them G‑d’s words: that upon receiving the Torah they were to become His “beloved treasure from among all the nations, for all the earth is Mine; a kingdom of rulers, and a holy nation.”8

Firstly, says the verse, the Jewish people were chosen by G‑d to become a “beloved treasure,” separated from all the other nations.9 Thereafter, the verse implies, they were to reach an even higher level, that of “rulers” — they were to rule over their surroundings. The verse then concludes with the additional merit of being “a holy nation” — they would achieve so exalted a state of spirituality that they would be entirely removed from the mundane, becoming a “holy nation” unto G‑d.

Thus, three successive stages of elevation are mentioned in the Torah. These three stages are remarkably similar to the underlying themes and reasons for the three systems by which the Jewish people were counted.

The Shelah states10 that this counting enabled them to become “an entity that is worthy of numeration and cannot become nullified.”11 Were the Jews not to have been counted, we would not have recognized their importance. Spiritually, this relates to that level at which, superficially, they seem to be no different from other nations. By counting them, G‑d’s special love for them — even as they exist in this unexalted state — is revealed.

This general count reflects G‑d’s promise regarding the first state that the Jewish people would achieve through receiving the Torah: “You will be My beloved treasure from among all the nations.”Although other nations exist alongside the Jewish people, still G‑d chooses the Jewish people; notwithstanding the outward similarities, they do not become nullified among other nations.

The second count, that of the Levites, was intended not only to make them “an entity worthy of numeration” and hence “not subject to nullification,” but also for the purpose of “ruling”12 over Israel. This is similar to the second stage of elevation that the Jews achieved by receiving the Torah, that of being “a kingdom of rulers.”

Counting the family members of Kehos for the purpose of carrying the fixtures of the Holy of Holies is similar to the third objective accomplished by the Giving of the Torah— totally removing the Jewish people from the mundane and transforming them into “a holy nation.”

Each year before the festival of Shavuos, when “these days are remembered,”13 Jews prepare themselves spiritually to receive the Torah anew14 and to attain the three accompanying levels mentioned above. This is actualized during Shavuos, when Jews receive the Torah afresh, meriting to become “a beloved treasure from among all the nations...; a kingdom of rulers, and a holy nation.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVIII, pp. 18-27.